Monday, June 21, 2010

Southwest Airlines: Oh Yeah, It's SO On!

Southwest Airlines continues to be the darling of domestic airline brands and the apple of my eye because it continues to be the perfect storm of business model and brand model.

For a little perspective, Southwest has never strayed from it's low fares, no frills, lots of fun image. All it's done is produce 37 consecutive years of profitability. How many other airlines can say that? How much has the industry changed since Southwest first took to the skies? Over 200 domestic airlines have either merged, been taken over, or are now extinct.

But over a year ago, this category killer took its brand into the stratosphere when it launched its bags fly free assault. Talk about kicking competitors when they are down. It was more than just guerilla warfare and great marketing strategy. It was a brilliant example of creating more brand separation from not only competitors but an entire industry. And every nickel and dime move other carriers make - some are contemplating charging to use the toilet or making you pay by how much you weigh - the more SWA looks like a hero.

So, what does Southwest do for an encore? Separate itself even further from all other domestic pretenders by declaring you can only find fares and book tickets on Doesn't this fly in the face of conventional and contemporary thinking that you must be everywhere to be successful? Au, contraire.

Brand strategy legend Al Ries (The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding) talks about the Law Exclusivity. Essentially, two brands cannot share the same image. He couldn't be more on point. However, I take that law a step further when talking about exclusivity: Mass availability does not always mean mass consumption; demand can create more desire.

CBS doesn't repurpose its programming on Hulu, a site that allows you to watch episodes of some network and cable programming after it airs. Yet,, CBS once again won the coveted A25-54 demographic amongst all other broadcast networks this past season. How many jewelry stores actually carry Rolex watches? Though often imitated, you have to go to high end shops to purchase one. And it's doubtful you'll find Cuban cigars next to the register at your local convenient store. If you can get your hands on them, a box will set you back as much as $500-$700.

So, by not allowing itself to participate on sites like Orbitz or Travelocity, Southwest is not only physically separating itself further from competitors, it perceptively is making its brand more unique by not blending in with the fray.

The only downside? It doesn't make it easy for you to conveniently compare its fares to competitors side-by-side? But Southwest Airlines never portends to have the absolute lowest fares. Rather, all the things it has systematically done through the years from serving peanuts, group seating and no charge for bags, have conspired to make it the best overall value in the air and a brand to be envious of no matter what category your product or service is in.

Southwest likes to say, "It's On." When you consider the powerful impact all these moves have on customers and the brand damage it continues to inflict on reeling competitors, I'd say "It's SO On!"

These are my Guts Feelings.

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